Despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s questionable advice that the administration at UNC-Chapel Hill could remove Silent Sam, the monument to students from the university who died in the Civil War is still standing. Cooper had written a response to UNC-system President Margaret Spellings, regarding a letter she had sent to him about safety and security concerns the school had involving the monument.
His response appeared online at a press website before having been received by Spellings or the Board of Governors, which angered some of the board members. In his response Cooper wrote, “If our University leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures.”
A statement posted on a UNC-Chapel Hill website Tuesday afternoon said, “Despite how it is being interpreted in the media, the University has not been given the clear legal authority to act unilaterally. Governor Cooper cites a provision where removal would be permitted if a ‘building inspector’ concludes that physical disrepair of a statue threatens public safety, a situation not present here. The University is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts.”
A planned protest was held Tuesday evening at McCorkle Place, the site of the monument. According to a report at WRAL.com, at its peak there were 800 people gathered outside two fences that the university had erected earlier in the day. The protest appeared to be largely nonviolent, and there where people in attendance on both sides of the issue regarding tearing down the monument.
Marty Kotis, a member of the UNC Board of Governors said, “It doesn’t look like much happened last night. I think the fence and barricades helped. The police did a fantastic job managing the crowd and keeping the students safe, making sure there was no damage not only to the statue but to other university buildings or buildings in the town. A longer-term solution might be a taller fence, to help keep the area from becoming a lightning rod.”
On Tuesday Kotis had said that putting up a fence around the statue would be a good idea.
WRAL also reported there were three arrests, the first of which was a man charged with wearing a mask on public property and resisting arrest. Some protestors tried to thwart the arrest by blocking the police and its van used to transport the arrestee. However, no incidents stemmed from those efforts.
That there were representatives on both sides of the monument issue should not be surprising, in light of a Reuters/IPSOS poll released Monday, August 21. Reuters reported, “A majority of Americans think Confederate monuments should be preserved in public spaces…The Aug. 18-21 poll found that 54 percent of adults said Confederate monuments ‘should remain in all public spaces’ while 27 percent said they ‘should be removed from all public spaces.’ Another 19 percent said they ‘don’t know.’”
For now, Silent Sam is still standing silently over McCorkle Place, having weathered efforts in the past to have it removed during the 104 years it has paid tribute to the 321 UNC-CH alumni who died fighting in the Civil War.
While the General Assembly will reconvene Thursday to address bills that have been vetoed by Cooper, he has also called for them to repeal the 2015 law that limits the authority to remove statues and monuments from public grounds to the state historic commission, but Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) does not appear to be eager to rush to that type of action.
In a commentary posted on social media, Thursday, August 17, Berger wrote, “Personally, I do not think an impulsive decision to pull down every Confederate monument in North Carolina is wise.” Berger also wrote, “Two years ago, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that tried to reduce the politics in making these decisions. I believe many current members of the Senate would be hesitant to begin erasing our state and country’s history by replacing that process with a unilateral removal of all monuments with no public discourse.”